Workshop in Critical Writing: Drama
Instructor: Ms Eleni Delliou
Chris Keller: Like Father, Like Son?
All my sons, by Arthur Miller, could be characterized as a critique to an over zealously capitalistic society. The American Dream, its pursuit and its consequences, is one of the major themes of the play, basically focused on the idealistic conflict between self-interest and moral responsibility towards society. More specifically, the playwright asks us where the boundaries are on securing your family’s well being and happiness. How many lies can someone tell to himself and to his morality? Each of Miller’s characters answers these questions differently. Chris Keller is demonstrated as the idealist of the play. Initially he is presented as “a man capable of immense affection and loyalty” (Act One). He seems horrified and ashamed that the sacrifices his soldiers did hadn’t changed anything to the rest of the world: “I felt… ashamed somehow. Because nobody was changed at all”. Theoretically he is not a materialist, he feels guilty for his wealth: “I felt wrong to be alive, to open the bank-book, to drive the new car, to see the new refrigerator” (Act One). Practically though, he doesn’t reject any of that and he seems to enjoy his comfortable life. Chris Keller is being described as idealist and honest in the words of the other characters. Ann in Act Two confesses to Sue: “Whenever I need somebody to tell me the truth I've always thought of Chris”. Her brother, George, yells to Chris: “I believed everything because I thought you did”. In the third act, where the awful truth is revealed and Chris is missing, Jim, talking to Kate Keller, thinks of him as a man who “would never know how to live with a thing like that. It takes a certain talent… for lying. You have it, and I do. But not him”. But why is the reader told about Chris’ honesty and not shown it? Superficially, Chris might be honest but, with a closer look he is not so different from his father. When Ann asks if the neighbors talk about her father, Chris quickly responds, “Nobody talks about him anymore”, which is far beyond the truth (Act One). When the truth of Joe's guilt is revealed, Chris declares that even he suspected the truth, he did nothing about it, he lied to himself, and neither now he is able to do something. He accuses his parents of making him practical because he can't send his father to jail: “I could jail him! I could jail him, if I were human any more. But I'm like everybody else now. I'm practical now. You made me practical” (Act Three). But hasn't he been more or less practical all along? One of the characteristics he shares with his father is his ability to put blame on everyone else but to himself. As Joe Keller puts the blame on his partner Steve, or on his wife for wanting money and furthermore, he justifies his actions in the name of his family, likewise Chris doesn’t admit his own lack of morality but blames his family for making him practical and dishonest. Chris loves his parents and he idealizes his father: “I know you’re no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father” (Act Three). But there are hints of knowing the entire truth in the whole play. He tries to set a distance from his father’s business by not putting his name on it and professes to dislike it: “The business doesn't inspire me”. But, even though his lack of inspiration, he doesn’t reject the benefits of wealth. “I’m going to make a fortune for you”, he promises Ann, sounding much like his father. Joe in the beginning of the third Act yells at Kate: “You wanted money, so I made money… I could live on a quarter a day myself, but I got a family”. Chris, like his father, truly puts family first, as he does in the end of the play. Chris also shares his friendly, often humorous attitude with his father. He likes to smooth things over to avoid conflict. He postpones telling his mother the...
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